nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 24, 2006
Tim Aumiller's new play Temple has a lot of earnest aspirations behind it; I wish I could report that it achieves them.
Set, according to the program, in Washington, D.C. in the "not-too-distant future," it hypothesizes a U.S.A. where homosexuality has apparently been made illegal, prompting a group of underground gay activists to plot and execute a terrorist attack on various components of the federal government's infrastructure, including several court buildings (such as the Supreme Court), as well as critical computer systems (the group supposedly has access to a virus that can cripple these programs).
The play takes place in one of this group's hideouts in a building in Washington. When the action commences, one of the commandos, Russ, is in the throes of a major anxiety attack—it seems he ran away from the scene of the bombing he was involved in, ahead of his comrades, who include most notably a man named Jon. Jon is the charismatic leader of this "cell" and is also a former lover of Russ's.
Russ is joined almost immediately by a young man named Walt, who arrives with his mentally disabled sister Brenda in tow. Walt, another former lover of Jon's, is only indirectly involved in the attacks, having supplied some crucial information to enable the terrorists to get into the government building(s). For some reason (never disclosed, as far as I could tell), Jon has told Walt to come here to meet him.
Eventually the trio are joined by the rest of the squad—Jon; his current lover Remy, who has been shot and is now very badly wounded; Suzanne, a tough lesbian; and Kent, a straight man suffering noticeably from drug withdrawal, hired as a bombing expert. Kent is here to get paid; the rest are awaiting instructions from unnamed higher-ups who are supposedly going to call in with directions on a cellphone that is hidden somewhere in the room.
Aumiller's script follows this scenario through to its dramatic but often obvious conclusions. The adventure-movie setting doesn't feel like a natural fit for the playwright, unfortunately; lots of the action seems unconvincing or even downright bogus. Why would these gay militants hire a straight, drug-addicted man to help them? Why would Walt bring his sister with him to such a dangerous place? Why is Walt even here? Why don't the various characters get busy and look for the phone? Why don't they keep the radio on to find out what's happening outside?
But there's content in Temple apart from the caper, and it's here that we can glimpse what a potent and interesting piece of work this play might have been. Certainly the central notion of severe repression of homosexuals has resonance; it sounds like an "it can't happen here" kind of notion, but systemic "treatment" and/or incarceration of gays has happened and still does happen in lots of places, from Nazi Germany to Alan Turing's England to the United Arab Emirates right now. (There's a very interesting quote from the British website gay.com supporting that last assertion, provided in the program.)
In the play, Aumiller maps a future USA where religious "faith" is pervasive and essentially government-mandated; he suggests further that the government and media collude to deceive and "calm" the public by controlling access to information. These are provocative ideas worth exploring. Alas, Aumiller muddies his own waters by sometimes identifying the revolutionaries as homosexual and other times as atheists, as if those two groups were the same.
Temple is staged by Greg Foro in a vivid production that strains the resources of tiny Manhattan Theatre Source. The action occurs just inches away from most spectators, with some of the fight sequences really too close for comfort. There are some fine performances on view here, notably Audrey Amey as the very angry, very capable Suzanne; Lesley Miller as the mentally challenged Brenda; and Tom Macy as the unfortunate Walt. Shannon Michael Wamser begins at fever pitch as Russ and then has nowhere else to go; I kept wondering what all of his ruckus was about, and never really felt satisfied that I ever found out. Tom Baran has little to do as the wounded Remy, and Joshua Seidner does the druggy bit as Kent effectively enough to make me not want to be in the same room with him. Unfortunately, David Rudd is a disappointment in the lead role of Jon: he looks the part and possesses a very strong stage presence, but he consistently stumbled over and/or swallowed words, rendering his many long philosophical speeches less than comprehensible.
In the end, its noble intentions aside, Temple is not a satisfying work. I applaud Aumiller's integrity and commitment in trying to create a work that challenges so many aspects of the status quo; too few playwrights are willing to do as much. But I suspect that Aumiller has bitten off more than he can chew here, especially in trying to graft an action-movie-type scenario onto a more compelling play of ideas.